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Home / Awards / Path to Peace Award / 1997


1997 - Her Excellency Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro

Most observers were surprised at the election of Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro as President of Nicaragua in 1990. The Sandinistas had controlled the country, except for the Catholic Church and Mrs. Chamorro's newspaper, La Prensa, which, virtually alone, predicted the election's outcome accurately. After the election, many doubted that the Sandinistas would permit Mrs. Chamorro to take office, but she did, thanks in no small part to her political instincts in reaching out to the Sandinistas rather than retaliating against them.

After six years in office she brought her country back from ruin, ending a civil war and revitalizing an economy that had become the second worst in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps most remarkable of all, Mrs. Chamorro had never held office before.

When Violeta Barrios married Pedro Chamorro, she knew that she was marrying a man whose life was devoted to politics. A journalist and the editor of Nicaragua's only national newspaper, La Prensa, Pedro JoaquĆ­n Chamorro Cardenal saw his newspaper as a vehicle for challenging the existing rule. He planned and led unsuccessful insurrections, and spent years in exile and in prison. Throughout this time, Violeta raised their four children and, sharing her husband's dream of a democratic Nicaragua, helped him in whatever way she could, including accompanying him on a perilous escape to Costa Rica.

In January 1978, her life was changed drastically when assassins murdered her husband during a daylight ambush on the streets of Managua. Suddenly heartbroken and grief-stricken, Violeta was thrown into the spotlight without her husband. She assumed responsibility for La Prensa and was forced to confront the existing regime on her own. So effective was she that when her country's rulers were overthrown the following year in a rebellion whose catalyst was her husband's assassination, she was asked to be part of a five-member junta to run the country. Uncomfortable with her Sandinista partners, she resigned and once again took up the opposition, this time to a dictatorship of the left. For a decade she denounced the Sandinistas, certain that she was defending the democratic ideal that Pedro would have stood for.

President Chamorro's lack of political experience left her to govern by the model she knew best, raising a family. Her own children were politically divided, like her country, and she strove to keep open the lines of communication. She did the same for her family of Nicaragua, reconciling left and right whenever possible, trying to put past political turmoil behind her. Devoted to the memory of her martyred husband, committed to her religious faith and to her faith in democracy, Violeta Chamorro ruled from the heart and led her country from disaster to recovery.

In recognition of her outstanding service and tireless efforts in the cause of peace, Her Excellency Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro is honored as the recipient of the 1997 Path to Peace Award.